Student Spotlight: Byron Westfield

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You’re More Capable Than You Know: Meet MEd Alum Byron Westfield 

Byron Westfield’s story proves that taking chances can pay off in a big way.

For over a decade, Byron has taught high school English in rural southern Japan, where he covers core academic subjects while helping students practice a new language. His big-picture passion as an educator is empowering students to pursue dreams far beyond the limited local opportunities. 

“Seeing the students grasp new opportunities, seeing them excel and get better at what they want to do, is one of the things that pushes me as a teacher,” Byron says. 

That kind of determination was the primary driving force behind Byron’s choice to pursue his Master of Education online at the University of San Diego — that, and a little bit of serendipity. But an advanced degree wasn’t necessarily on Byron’s radar when the opportunity presented itself. 

“My undergrad was way back when, and it was sort of rough at some points. After [I graduated], I was quite discouraged,” he recalls. “I wanted to continue with higher education. But the opportunity just didn’t arise.” 

What followed was a long period of searching. He embarked on his teaching career in Japan. He applied to enter a culinary program, but it didn’t work out. He became increasingly active in the local community, even once teaching a cooking class in which he recreated his favorite British-Caribbean dishes with Japanese ingredients. 

All the while, he was searching for the thing that would get him back in the pupil’s seat. He knew he liked teaching, and he was good at it. He had heard good things about the San Diego area from some friends who lived in California, and he knew there was a renowned university there with an online cyber security leadership program, a field which had always intrigued him. Further encouraged by his mother’s decision to pursue a law degree on top of her PhD, Byron took the plunge and applied to the University of San Diego. 

Late one night, on a walk home from the local izakaya (pub), Byron heard his phone ding. He reached into his pocket and opened his email. His application to USD had been denied. 

Dejected, he wandered into a nearby park playground and sank down on a swing. He looked at the email again. He sighed, then began to draft a response. 

“I wrote, oh, you know, that’s unfortunate, I would very much like to get into education, but thank you anyways…” To his surprise, he received a swift response from an enrollment advisor, who informed him of the online Master of Education program and offered to connect him with the program director, Dr. Joseph Lathan. Before Byron knew it, he was scheduled to have an interview with Dr. Lathan himself at 7 o’clock the next morning. 

“I guessed I should probably run home and take a quick nap!” Byron laughs. 

And thus, by a combination of chance, curiosity, and the kind of gut feeling that leads one to respond to an email at 3 in the morning, Byron applied and was accepted into the MEd program. 

During his time in the program, Byron found a supportive and passionate virtual community of fellow educators that —  delightfully — transcended geographical boundaries. He enjoyed interacting with instructors who demonstrated genuine care for teaching and learning, which energized him to fully embrace the academic rigor of the program. He especially appreciated Dr. Elizabeth “Libby” Butler’s guidance during his capstone project: She emphasized the importance of professionalism and effective communication when presenting students with new information and left a lasting impact on Byron’s approach to classroom instruction.

One word that comes to Byron’s mind when summarizing his experience is “welcoming.” Even through a computer screen, he could tell that each instructor cared so much about their craft — about pedagogy, teaching materials, student engagement and more.

“That [passion] really encouraged me,” he says. “It helped me feel confident that I made the right choice in pursuing this MEd.” 

Looking toward the future, Byron hopes to one day become a university professor or potentially venture into foreign service. “No matter what path I choose, I want to continue to work with local communities, helping people to better themselves,” he says. “I want to push the importance of education, and [reinforce] how it can benefit people’s futures.”

For now, Byron strives daily to broaden his students’ horizons and help them cultivate a deeper appreciation for learning. One of his favorite parts of the job is seeing his students push themselves past “good enough” and surprise themselves with their own achievements.

“Sometimes, you don’t realize what you’re capable of until you actually try to do something,” he muses. “Oftentimes, we psych ourselves out. We think, oh, it seems like a lot of work, it seems so stressful, I might not be able to keep up with classes, I might not be on the same level as everybody else — but that’s only a limitation in your own mind. If you try, you’ll find that perhaps you’re better than you think you are. Your possibilities are endless; you just need to get your foot in the door. 

“But also — make sure you actually have some time to decompress,” he adds. “It’s good to work really hard, but don’t destroy yourself in an attempt to build yourself up. I had to relearn that myself.” 

Above all, Byron hopes his story will inspire others to overcome their fears and just go for it. 

“For anyone who’s doubting themselves, it’s okay to try again,” he says. “Because you never know what the future can hold. There are many, many opportunities out there.”

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